York, PA is currently the front line of a new battle over public education.
A PA judge has ruled that the state can go ahead with its plan to put the district in receivership, appointing the same David Meckley who has served as the district's recover officer. Meckley, a 63-year-old businessman, has the advantage of being a York native, but the disadvantage of having no educational background.
The stakes are higher because everyone already knows what Meckley's plan is-- to hand the entire district over to the Charter Schools USA for-profit chain. This is not the first time in the US that such a move has been tried; you just don't hear much from reformsters about Muskegon Heights, Michigan, because that experiment ended prematurely, in failure.
The next move came before the ink was dry on the court's ruling. The district's school board and two unions filed an appeal. And reactions started to roll in.
The York Dispatch ran an editorial that, among other things, called the CSUSA plan "half-baked" and attacked the 2012 PA law that law underneath the judge's ruling. Opinions began to roll in from elsewhere.
People have been watching governor-elect Tom Wolf carefully. Sure, he's a Democrat. So is Andrew Cuomo. He is also a York resident with ties to Meckley and the private school community. Colleen Kennedy has been the reporter on the ground since before Day One, and her work on this subject is exhaustive. Bottom line-- there's no certainty about which way Wolf will jump on this one.
The comment issued from his office does not necessarily clarify the matter. Though this reporter summarizes Wolf as "opposed" to the takeover, let's look at what spokesperson Jeff Sheridan actually said:
Gov.-elect Wolf knows that schools across Pennsylvania have been starved for resources over the last four years and our children are being put at a disadvantage. As a result, district like York have been forced to the brink of financial collapse. Gov.-elect Wolf will make education his top priority by working to restore funding cuts and providing adequate resources so school districts can deliver on the promise of a high-quality public education for all Pennsylvanians.
In short, it's not his fault that this is happening. He plans to take steps to make sure it doesn't happen any more. But it does not say, directly or indirectly, that the York takeover should be stopped, should not happen, will be fought by the governor's office.
If he wants to really step up, he has the chance. "The state" has filed motions to get the appeal thrown out, starting with the school board's appeal. "The state" has a two-pronged approach to their objection. Prong one, the nit-picky prong, is the technicality that the board took the action of filing the appeal without a proper public meeting and vote.
Prong two, the "insult to injury" prong, says that at the moment the judge's ruling was issued, David Meckley became the Lord and Master of the York School District and nobody employed by the district could say "boo" about the lawsuit without his permission. Shut the door quick! Some actual voters or taxpayers might get a chance to say something!
And there's why everybody should be pissed off, upset, opposed to, and calling their congressperson about York. Because the state's underlying rationale here is, "The voters and taxpayers of York have, in the state's opinion, lost their right to have any sort of say about York schools. In Harrisburg, we have decided that democracy should be suspended in York because we don't like the way the voters handled it. Democracy is nice and all, but it's a luxury that only Some People are entitled to, and in Harrisburg, we've decided that the people of York are Not The Right People."
In York, we see laid out with stark clarity, the process that has been under way in many school systems, and this is the aspect of reformsterdom that people who don't even give a rat's rear about schools and education should still be paying attention to, because the root of the process, from York to Philly to Detroit to Chicago to New York is to replace democracy with corporate ownership. The process is about taking the vote away from citizens and giving it to corporate operators. This is literally taxation without representation.
Pennsylvania is not technically a state. We're a commonwealth, but these days that title seems a bit misplaced.